John McDonnell, Labour MP and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK, has revealed that the Labour Party has established a working group to investigate universal basic income. Guy Standing, cofounder of BIEN, will play a key role in drafting their report.

Speaking directly to Basic Income News, Standing explains:

“I have been invited to become an economic adviser to the Labour Party, and in particular to John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor (effectively, the Opposition finance minister). He has asked me to help prepare a detailed strategy report for framing a basic income and enabling the Labour leadership to present a plan for implementing a basic income as part of Labour’s long-term economic strategy.”

In an interview with the Independent, McDonnell explained that the Labour Party intends to use this report as the basis for a tour around the UK to discuss the idea with the public. In the interview, McDonnell highlights the parallels between the idea of basic income today and that of a universal and unconditional child benefit before its introduction in 1975:

“I was involved in the early campaigns many years ago on the development of child benefit – at that point in time there were all sorts of anxieties about whether you could bring forward a benefit for everybody that wasn’t based upon an assessment of need and we won the argument. I think child benefit is like one of the foundation stones of a future basic income.”

This development follows Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement last September that his party would research universal basic income, and McDonnell’s own positive comments regarding the policy earlier that year.

Jonathan Reynolds, MP and Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury City Minister, has been named as the leader of the working group, a politically savvy move given that he himself identifies as a moderate within this currently sharply divided party. He wrote favourably about basic income for the New Statesman last February, and made the point that public support for state welfare could be bolstered by following the model of the much-loved National Health Service (NHS) – that is, by making sure that it “provides something for everybody”.

The basic income working group will present its results before the next general election, scheduled for 2020. While the Labour Party is currently trailing the leading Conservatives in the polls, not least due to divisions within the party since the election of Corbyn as its leader in 2015, the British political landscape is currently highly unstable given the unforeseeable effects of Brexit. Indications that some form of basic income might be included in Labour’s election manifesto, then, are significant.

Read more:

Ashley Cowburn, “Labour sets up ‘working group’ to investigate universal basic income, John McDonnell reveals”, Independent, 5 February, 2017.

Kate McFarland, “UK: Labour Leader to Investigate Universal Basic Income”, Basic Income News, 15 September, 2016.

Kate McFarland, “UNITED KINGDOM: Labour Party to look into Basic Income”, Basic Income News, 6 June, 2016.

Jonathan Reynolds, “How I learnt to stop worrying and love Basic Income”, New Statesman, 17 February, 2016.

Reviewed by Kate McFarland

Photo: John McDonnell; CC 3.0 by Percivale Productions

About Genevieve Shanahan

Genevieve Shanahan has written 20 articles.

Genevieve is a graduate of University College London, with an MPhil in philosophy. She currently works at the Grenoble Ecole de Management, assisting with research on young people and work in Europe, and otherwise reads and writes about basic income.